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that are peculiarly matters of conscience in religion, inen ought to be somewbat wary, according to the utmost of due discerning; and we are possibly somewhat to blame in the promiscuous admitting of such, whose carriage, yea, whose profession and religion speaks aloud, that their compliance was wholly constrained obedience, only for wrath, and not for conscience.
If civil authority is to be obeyed most for conscience, then church authority, that is more symbolical with conscience and hath nearer reference to it, ouglıt to aim most at that. Conviction and conversion is our work, and not constraint; to bring people, both by the word and by a way of discipline suiting and backing it, to a sense of sin and spiritual thoughts of God and his holy law, that they may be subject more for conscience than for wrath.
And ye people, labor more to find the actings of that holy fear of God and conscience of his will in all your ways. Study to have an inward light, a practical sanctifying light, directing you; and be not merely held in as beasts by the authority and laws of men, but learn to know and be sensible of the sovereign authority of the most high God and his law, and to have respect unto all his commandments. If this were once done, how regular a motion would it keep amongst all superiors and inferiors of all sorts, in families and states, the one commanding, the other obeying in God! It would be as sweet music in the celestial choir of their lives and affairs. Right-informing and right-moving consciences would be as continual teachers within, directing all in obedience, and would make it both more constant, sweet, and pleasant, as natural motion; whereas that is grievous and violent which is from wrath or outward power, and therefore lasts not; as the Israelites worshipped God aright while their good judges lived, and ran after idols when they were removed.
Again; this same obedience for conscience, ennobles and sublimates men's actions even in civil things, makes them have somewhat divine, turns all into sacrifice to God, when all is done for God; even servants and children obeying masters and parents, and subjects magistrates, for his command's sake; still thinking, in the whole course of their regular due carriage, in their very callings, This I do for God; my ordinary labor and works, and my just obedience to men, I offer up to him. This is the philosopher's stone, that turns actions of lower metal into gold; I set the Lord always before me.
Observe, 2, kings and other powers of the world, who are the enemies and sometimes the enraged persecutors of our holy religion, mistake their quarrel and are very wrongfully misprejudiced against it, when, upon that false supposition, they hate and oppose it, suspecting it as an enemy to their dignity and authority; whereas there is nothing that doth so much assert their just power as religion doth. Civil laws may tie the hands and tongue to their obedience, but religion binds all due subjection to them upon the very consciences of their people. Therefore they are both ungrateful and unwise, in using their power against religion, which it so much strengthens. Their power should strengthen it, both by way of due return to correspond with it in that, and even for its own interest, receiving a new establishment to itself by establishing religion. Even that master of irreligious policy, Machiavel, confesses, that the profession of religion is a friend to authority. But if the shadow of it do any thing that way, we see, contrary to his profane supposition, the substance and truth of it doth it much more.
Observe, 3, if for conscience sake we are to practise this subjection, then surely in nothing is it our duty to be subject against the true rule of conscience, and the prime object of conscience, the authority and law of God. That is the first and highest, our perpetual, unalterable engagement to bim, binding both kings and subjects, both high and low. And if rulers leave their station, we ought to keep ours still, in a straight subjection to God; for the extent of friendship and all other relations, and of all subjection and obedience, is to be ruled and bounded “usque ad aras.” Give to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, but nothing of God's: that is neither ours to give, nor his to receive.
For, for this cause pay ye tribute also. This the apostle gives as a sign of that confessed right which magistrates have to the subjection and obedience of the people, that in all nations this homage and acknowledgment is due to them; Tribute to whom tribute is due: which, it may be, he the rather mentions, because some question might exist, what might Christians do concerning this. However this, acording to the constitution of several places, he takes as granted, to be not only lawful, but due to be rendered. Here we are not to insist on the scanning of this; but certainly, as the power of a magistrate is not in this, nor in any other thing, absolute and unbounded, so the legal and just paying of tribute and other revenues by the people, argues their engagement to those set over thein, and is to be rendered, not as wages to a mercenary servant, but as an honorary due to their place and calling, who are the ministers of God in civil government. So also convenient, yet liberal maintenance to the ministers of God's own house, is their right, yet not to enrich them; nor yet ought it to be given grudgingly as undue, or superciliously as to servants, but with the cheerfulness and respect agreeable to the Lord's servants, who watch for their souls.
All tribute and obedience still relate to this and are grounded on it, the Lord's institution of power and government for the good of men. Though it sometimes prove otherwise in the exercise of it, yet the ordinance is pure, and most wisely suited to its end; from which the sin and corruption of men turn it but too often to the hurt of both the ruler himself and of the ruled. There is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt ; each proving a scourge to the other, in the just judgment of God upon both for their iniquities; making a fore from Abimelech to devour the men of Shechem, and the men of Shechem to deal treacherously with Abimelech ; Judg. ix, 20. Yet still the thing itself remains good. Many skilful physicians may kill instead of curing, yet it is but a caprice to decry all remedies and the use of things medicinal, which the God of wature hath furnished for that use.
Men may, and, alas! most men do, prejudice their own health by either intemperate, or, in some way, irregular diet; yet this makes nothing against the continual necessity and use of food, nor can dissuade any from using it. Thus the abuses of authority in fringe not this, that
magistrates are a public good; yea, the unjust are better than none; tyranny is better than anarchy; there is some justice done in the most unjust government.
But thus they who are exalted to rule ought to consider who raised them and for what they are raised, and so faithfully to do justice. They are raised high, as the stars are set in their orbits, for influence and the good of the inferior world, and, like the mountains which rise above the valleys, not to be places of prey and ruin, but by the streams they send out to refresh them. So, from magistrates judgment ought to run down as water, and justice as a mighty stream. They ought to consider themselves as ministers; though called magistrates with relation to the people, yet ministers in relation to God, and the people's in him, as the word lectoúpyou imports, being constant laborers for their good; even as the sun is a minister, God's minister of heat and light to the earth. Would they look up thus to God, it would make them look down on their inferiors, not with the ill aspect of pride and cruelty, but with the benign looks of good will, fidelity, and vigilancy for their welfare, knowing that they are appointed for this very use in the world ; not referring to that which is nearest here and nearest themselves, the receiving of tribute, but the remotest good, which is the chief end for which their tribute and themselves are appointed, the punishing of the wicked and the encouragement of the good.
Render therefore to all their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due, custom to whom custom, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. The apostle enlarges his exhor. tation to the general rule of equity. The humble, upright mind will willingly comply with this, and pay respect to men in obedience to God, and therefore primarily to bim, which the most neglect. Honor and fear are due to him, as to our Father and Master, and yet where is it to be found ? If I be a father, where is mine honor ? and if I be a master, where is my fear? Mal. i, 6. The tribute of praise and glory in all these respects is due, and ought not to be purloined, nor any part detained; but how are faithful in this! Much uncustomed goods pass among our hands in the course of our lives, many things wherein we are not mindful to give glory, entire glory to God. But he cannot be deceived. If we go on, he will take us in our quietest conveyance, and all will be forfeited. We shall certainly lose all, if all glory return not to him. All that we have and are should we daily and heartily offer up to bim, from whom we have life, and breath, and all things.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another. That which the apostle set before himself, as bis own study and exercise, le dotb, in the latter part of this epistle, set forth at large, as the duty of every Christian, to keep a conscience void of offence towards God and men. And having, in the former part of it, treated amply and excellently of the doctrine of Christian faith and salva. tion and ascended to its highest cause, he descends from thence to give the rules of a Christian life. And he reduces them to these two-1, to give the Lord his due, which is, ourselves entire : our bodies ought to be a living sacrifice, and that they are not without the soul. And it is love in the soul, that offers up this whole burnt offering to God, the fire that makes it ascend, 2, towards men likewise love is all; of which, in many several acts of it, he spake likewise in the former chapter, ver. 9, &c.; and having inserted an exhortation to subjection to human authority as a divine institution, he now returns to that main, comprehensive, and universal duty of love, and passes fitly, from the mention of other particular dues to superiors, to this, as the general due or standing debt, which all men owe one to another. So, I conceive, this is not intended for the further pressing of that particular duty of subjection, by reducing it, as seeming hard in itself, to the sweet and pleasant rule or law of love, but that he passes wholly from that particular to this common duty, so as that it is not excluded, but comprehend- . ed here with the rest, though not specially aimed at; a Jittle rivulet running a while in its own channel in the foregoing discourse, which falls here in again to the main current of the doctrine of love, begun in the former chap
Aud here he chooses, adapting it to the strain of the discourse immediately foregoing it, to express this under the notion of a debt; Owe nothing, but love.
1. Let other debts be removed; Owe nothing ; that is, Be not willing to continue debtors of any thing to any, by